Monday 21 October 2019

Action needed from Government on gay marriage - not talk

Colette Browne

Colette Browne

The first salvo in the forthcoming same-sex marriage referendum campaign was sounded at the weekend, when Health Minister Leo Varadkar said he would be voting yes because: "I'd like to be an equal citizen in my country of which I am a minister, because at the moment I am not."

In response, writing in this newspaper yesterday, David Quinn, from the Iona Institute, rejected the notion that equality was at the centre of the debate and said it was impossible to change the definition of marriage without "attacking a child's right to a mother and a father".

Before examining the bona fides of Mr Quinn's concerns, it is worth pointing out that the spectre of damage to 'traditional' marriage, from constitutional and legislative change, has been raised a number of times in the past.

When David Norris challenged the criminalisation of homosexual acts in 1984, the Supreme Court ruled against him, in part, because of a perceived threat to the institution of marriage.

The then-Chief Justice, Tom O'Higgins, worried that married men would suddenly decide en masse to leave their wives and hook up with a boyfriend if homosexuality was legalised, while single men would simply refuse to get married, preferring to have steamy gay affairs instead.

Quoting a UK parliamentary report from the 1950s, he said: "Cases in which homosexual behaviour on the part of the husband has broken up a marriage are by no means rare and there are also cases in which a man, in whom the homosexual component is relatively weak, nevertheless derives such satisfaction from homosexual outlets that he does not enter upon a marriage which might have been successfully and happily consummated".

Similarly, during the divorce referendum campaign, those opposed warned that feckless men would abandon their wives in droves and take up with some licentious floozy if it was introduced. "Hello divorce, bye-bye Daddy" was the memorable slogan employed by campaigners, who seemed to have a low opinion of men as hapless creatures utterly enslaved to their libidos.

The Norris judgment is now regarded, for obvious reasons, as one of the worst-ever judgments of the Supreme Court, while the concerns of anti-divorce campaigners have also proven unfounded - Ireland has the lowest divorce rate in Europe.

But are the concerns of marriage-equality opponents, regarding the threat latent in changing the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples more credible? Will extending the right to marry to same-sex couples somehow devalue, or damage, heterosexual marriages and harm children?

Mr Quinn, outlining his concerns that children could be negatively impacted by the change, said on Newstalk yesterday that if the Constitution was changed then when it came to things like IVF, fostering and adoption, "no preference could be given for motherhood and fatherhood".

This argument would perhaps make sense if same-sex marriage was going to have any impact on adoption, fostering or IVF, but it won't.

When it comes to adoption, only married couples, or single people, can currently adopt but the Children and Family Relationships Bill, which the Government intends to enact before the referendum, will provide for adoption for same-sex couples.

Meanwhile, it's simply not true that the current legal position favours "motherhood and fatherhood" when it comes to IVF and fostering.

Currently, same-sex couples can foster children while a number of IVF clinics have confirmed to me that there is no legal bar on same-sex couples undergoing treatment. In assessing a couple's eligibility for IVF, their suitability to raise a child is examined, but sexual orientation has no bearing on the outcome. Instead, the welfare of the child is paramount. In fact, when it comes to IVF, the only existing bar is financial, not sexual, because Ireland is one of only two EU countries in which the State doesn't pay for treatment for couples with fertility problems.

So, in grounding his opposition to same-sex marriage in concern for children and the rights of mothers and fathers, Mr Quinn is either misguided about the current legal position or directing his opposition at the wrong target.

If he does not want to have adoption rights extended to same-sex couples, then he should be opposing the Children and Family Relationships Bill and not the same-sex marriage referendum, which has nothing to do with it.

And, if he thinks that same-sex couples are not undergoing IVF treatment then he is simply wrong. The Beacon Clinic, for example, confirmed to me yesterday that they have treated many such clients.

In reality, anyone who is concerned for the welfare of children in this State should be an enthusiastic advocate of the referendum, because it will mean that hundreds of children living with gay parents will be afforded the same constitutional rights and protections as children growing up in heterosexual marital households.

It is a nonsense to suggest that extending these rights to same-sex couples will dilute, or damage, the legal protections that heterosexual marriages enjoy.

These kinds of inaccuracies, about the legal implications of same-sex marriage, will continue to be propounded by those opposed to the change until the Government enacts the Children and Family Relationships Bill.

Both Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil have told me they are broadly in favour of the legislation, but were concerned about the delay in publishing the Bill, the heads of which were published nearly 12 months ago.

Recently, Labour's Equality Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin warned the referendum could be defeated because of complacency among the electorate. However, those most guilty of complacency are ministers on the Government benches who have allowed untruths and scaremongering to infect the debate because of a delay in publishing legislation that would nullify all of these specious arguments.

If the Government spent less time warning the referendum could fail, and more time drafting legislation, then a victory would be more likely.

Irish Independent

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